Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Scottish National Party (SNP) (POS 40)


  The Scottish National Party submission to the Committee of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's inquiry on postal voting.

  Our submission is in two parts:

    —  Part one is a summary of our response.

    —  Part two lays out our position and the rationale behind our position.


  The Scottish National Party welcomes an increase in the use of postal balloting in principle as a measure to increase voter turnout. This support in principle is subject to certain necessary safeguards being brought into place.

  There are serious concerns which the SNP has regarding postal balloting in general and suggestions are made to improve the efficacy and security of postal balloting.

  The serious concerns on all-postal balloting centre on the following points:

    1.  There are insufficient safeguards in place or proposed to ensure that postal balloting is capable of preventing more systematic electoral fraud. A marked register of returned postal ballots is a long-overdue necessity.

    2.  The UK government should implement the Electoral Commission's recommendations on changes to legislation affecting postal ballots particularly in reference to matters of electoral fraud and security, as a matter of urgency.

    3.  The timetable for the issue and replacement postal ballot papers should be revised.

    4.  Greater checks and the use of audits should be implemented by the returning officer to prevent and detect electoral fraud.



  The UK government has a stated aim of providing an e-enabled election by 2006. Part of the process involves modernising the electoral administration and procedures. The UK government department covering local government has been carrying out electoral pilots over the past three years. 61 local authorities conducted either all-postal ballots, internet, telephone and/or digital forms of voting on 1 May 2003 alone. Electronic counting has also been piloted most notably in the London mayoral election.

  Postal voting is used by an increasing number of electors and for various reasons.

Postal Balloting: factors to consider

  The Scottish National Party welcomes initiatives which will engage with the electorate and encourage greater participation in the electoral process. However, there are a number of areas where electoral procedures should be changed and/or improved in order that postal balloting is secure, fair and efficient.

Security, Prevention of Fraud and Public Record of Votes Cast

  One of the most important measures for detecting electoral fraud, is the ability for the public to inspect the marked register of who voted in an election. Despite current problems in certain local authorities, the public inspection of marked registers is an important safeguard.

  However, the current law does not permit for the marked register to show if a postal ballot has been returned, ie actually cast. All that a marked register will show is that a postal ballot was sent. In a recent ward by-election, it is possible to calculate that one-third of postal ballots were not returned. However, nobody can calculate which third did not return them.

  It is has not been uncommon for opponents to attempt sharp practices in the past. This loophole would bring to the forefront the ability for sharp practices to be much more widespread and even harder to detect. On the grounds of the lack of marked register of postal votes returned, an all-postal ballot should not be supported.

  It is the SNP's position that the casting of a vote, by post, by proxy or in person at a polling station, should be a matter of public record. It is further recommended that postal ballot papers should be sent by registered post as a means of securing that papers are securely delivered to electors.

Electoral Timetable

  There are a number of electoral procedures which should be changed in order to make postal balloting fairer and more efficient. There is a need to make changes to the electoral timetable should the norm become postal voting.

  The timescale for issue and replacement of postal ballots needs to be addressed. The earliest that an elector can currently receive their postal ballot paper is 10 days prior to polling day (or close of polling). Where there have been a large number of postal ballots issued at a traditional general election, those ballot papers can take up to three to four days to deliver after the earliest point at which they can be issued. In some instances, an elector then has six working days in which to respond. If, however, an elector declares that they have not received their postal ballot paper, then the earliest point at which a replacement ballot paper can be issued is three working days before the close of polls.

  With postal services being reduced in a number of areas around Scotland or even disrupted due to industrial action, that gives insufficient time for an elector to receive a replacement ballot paper and have it sent back by post.

Location of Delivery Points

  In an all-postal ballot electoral pilot, usually each local authority should have a "delivery point" for postal ballots to be returned in person/by hand. This should become a regular feature of traditional polling processes in order that electors can have peace of mind of returning a ballot paper ahead of polling day and knowing that the returning officer has received it.


  Many candidates and agents have experienced the inefficiency of the Royal Mail in delivering bulk items of post: delivering of election addresses is testament to that in a number of areas. Whilst postal balloting is an addressed item, there is no guarantee provided or given by the Royal Mail that in fact each elector will receive a postal ballot paper in time. This is a significant difference for an elector compared to turning up at a polling station within the traditional hours of polling.

Educating the Electorate

  There have been no indications given of the level of public education and awareness raising that such an electoral pilot would require. For an elector who has not used a postal ballot paper before, particularly the use of declarations of identity, the postal ballot process can be confusing.

Secrecy of the Vote

  A number of individuals and political parties have also raised concerns about the secrecy of voting at home. Members of a household can be unduly pressurised by another member of the household to complete a postal ballot in accordance with their wishes. "Personation" is also more likely where a member of a household could in theory return any number of postal ballots received at the household's address. It is clear that the electoral administration is not in a position to create safeguards to check the validity of who has returned a postal ballot paper prior to a count. The current safeguards are in place as a reactive measure should a complaint be made. Since there are no marked registers of returned postal ballots available for public inspection, then no one is able to check if all postal ballots were returned from a household or not.

  The requirement to have a declaration of identity should be reviewed. With increased use of technology, the signatures of an application for a postal vote could be scanned and used as a checking mechanism at the point of ballot paper return. A mixture of spot checks and random sample audits would create more safeguards against electoral fraud.

  The Electoral Commission has made a number of practical recommendations in their report The Shape of Elections to Come. These recommendations should be acted upon as a matter of urgency.

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